White House begs Dems to back spending bills: ‘Can not afford to lose’ amid Afghanistan fiasco

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President Biden and senior administration officials, including members of the Cabinet, have begun making personal pleas to moderate House Democrats to support his $3.5 trillion expansion of the welfare state.

In private phone calls, administration officials even argue that Mr. Biden “can not afford to lose” a vote in Congress at the moment given the imbroglio in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden and his top lieutenants are urging the moderates to back an initial vote expected Tuesday, arguing that failing to do would be a major blow to one of Mr. Biden’s top domestic priorities.

“The calls have intensified in recent days,” said an aide to one of the targeted House members. “We’ve heard never every single argument imaginable, coming from the president’s top domestic policy advisor to cabinet secretaries.”

In each of the conversations, White House aides have pressured Democratic lawmakers to unite behind the “leader of their party.”

Mr. Biden’s decision to intervene comes as the House returns to Washington to vote on an initial budget resolution needed to start drafting the $3.5 trillion package.

Democrats have dubbed the $3.5 trillion bill “human infrastructure” as a complement to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that focuses on road, bridges and airport projects. The bigger bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities — addressing such items as climate change, amnesty for illegal immigrants, tuition-free community college and expanded health care. It would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

Since the $3.5 trillion package is unlikely to garner Republican support, Democrats plan to pass it in the Senate via budget reconciliation. The process allows some spending measures to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Likewise, in the face of solid GOP opposition in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can suffer no more than three defections if the legislation is to succeed.

At the moment, however, nine moderate Democrats are refusing to back reconciliation. Instead, they argue the House should immediately take up the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month.

“We have the votes to pass this legislation right now, which is why I believe we should first vote immediately on the bipartisan infrastructure package, send it to the President’s desk, and then quickly consider the budget resolution, which I plan to support,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a leading moderate Democrat from New Jersey. “We need to get people to work and shovels in the ground.”

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, is refusing the overture. The speaker has pledged not to bring up the infrastructure deal until the Senate passes the reconciliation package.

“Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote in a letter to her conference over the weekend. “In support of President Biden’s vision to Build Back Better, we must move quickly to pass the budget resolution this week.”

The speaker’s positioning is both practical and political. Her majority can only afford to lose three Democrats on any given vote before having to rely on Republicans. Given the partisan nature of Mr. Biden’s agenda, sources say there are few GOP votes to be had.

That reality means Mrs. Pelosi has to rely on Democrats to succeed. At the moment, however, there are broad fissures between moderates and far-left Democrats on infrastructure and reconciliation.

The 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus has refused to support the infrastructure deal. They say it does not go far enough on climate change or social issues.

“This is the path forward: We’re passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill alongside the jobs and families package,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chair of the caucus. “These necessary investments are what the people overwhelmingly want.”

Many on the far-left are also distrustful of moderates, believing they will not vote for reconciliation once the infrastructure deal is secured.

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